Facts You Might Not Know About The Legendary Bowhunter

March 5th, 2017 was Fred Bear’s 116th birthday. Although he died 30 years ago this spring, his legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of his friends, fans, and a new generation of archers and bowhunters who have come to recognize his lasting influence and the many contributions he made to our sport.

I first met “Papa Bear” in 1972 at the Pope and Young Club’s biennial convention in Denver. I had the pleasure of working with Fred and other P&Y Board members on the Club’s first record book, published in 1975 (thanks to the generous monetary contribution Fred made to pay for printing costs). Starting later in the 1970s, I saw him and his bowhunting sidekick, Bob Munger, each June at the Anderson Archery International Bowhunting Clinic. Those clinics drew thousands to Grand Ledge, Michigan, every Father’s Day weekend, There Fred and the Who’s Who of Bowhunting mingled with the gathered throngs and admirers, presenting helpful how-to seminars. Our trails also crossed where other bowhunters gathered from Clinton, Indiana, to yearly archery industry trade shows in Chicago or elsewhere, and at successive Pope and Young conventions.

I first met Fred Bear at the 1972 Denver Pope and Young Club Convention. That’s future astronaut and Space Shuttle Commander Joe Engle on my right. To my left is Tink Nathan, who was a BOWHUNTER Magazine columnist at the time.

The year before his death, Fred was the guest of honor and featured speaker at P&Y’s 1987 Tulsa Convention. Although in failing health and towing a wheeled oxygen tank (which he joked contained peppermint schnapps), he graciously posed for countless photos and signed a myriad of autographs, smiling and signing books and photos. I saw him early the following morning at the Tulsa Airport, not knowing when we said goodbye it would be the last time I’d ever see him. We spoke again by telephone the week before his death as I was preparing to attend the P&Y Board of Directors’ annual meeting in Boise.  I was about to leave for the airport when the sad call came that a true legend and friend had passed away.

Since then, I’ve written numerous columns, articles, and personal tributes about a man many believe deserved the title of “The Greatest Bowhunter of Them All,” who for decades represented and popularized archery and bowhunting for millions. Among the loyal followers of the lanky man in the Borsalino hat, no one I know would disagree.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I never hunted northern Michigan without dropping by the Bear Museum in Grayling. It was always a treat when Papa Bear stepped out of his office and took time to chat.

Following are a number of miscellaneous facts about Fred Bear and his lifetime efforts to show others the challenges, excitement, and rewards that shooting a bow and arrow provides:

*Fred was born in a Pennsylvania farm house during a Cumberland Valley blizzard on March 5, 1902, the second of three Bear children. His father, Harry Bear, took Fred on his first deer hunt near their farm in 1913. Fred killed his first whitetail with a rifle the following season.

*Shortly after his 21st birthday, Fred moved to Detroit where he worked as a pattern maker for the Packard Motor Car Company.

*In 1927, Fred saw Art Young’s bowhunting feature film, “Alaskan Adventures,” in Detroit’s Adams Theatre. It inspired him, sparking an interest in shooting bows and arrows. He later met and befriended Art Young. The two shot together and built archery gear in Fred’s basement. Fred’s first bowhunted  in 1929.

This Fred Bear drawing by artist Chuck Denault appeared in my 1992 book, My Place. It’s one of my favorite sketches of Papa Bear.

*Fred Bear and Charles Piper founded Bear Products Company in1933, the same year Fred helped to form the Detroit Archery Club. A year later, Fred won the Michigan State Target Archery Championship. In 1935, he arrowed his first deer.

*NOTE: Fred Bear shot bows left-handed, despite the fact he was naturally right-handed. A farm accident had cost young Fred part of a finger on his right hand. That injury prevented him from drawing the bowstring and anchoring with his right hand’s fingers, so he switched to shooting “lefty.”

*U.S. patents granted to Fred Bear included the modern shooting glove (1937), fiberglass bow backing (1946), and bow quivers (1946). In 1947 the Bear Archery manufacturing plant opened in Grayling, Michigan. The Fred Bear Museum opened in Grayling 20 years later in 1967.

*Fred Bear firsts include his first bowhunting film (1942), designing his first take-down recurve (1943), publication of his first book, “The Archer’s Bible” (1968), release of his “Secrets of Hunting” LP record with Curt Gowdy (1968), and induction into the first Archery Hall of Fame class (1972).

Fred Bear was inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame in 1972, along with other bowhunting legends including Ben Pearson. This is a photo of their biographical display in the AHOF Museum at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Missouri.

            *The Fred Bear Sports Club was announced in 1970 with TV stars, astronauts, and top US archers its first members. In 1972 the Fred Bear Sports Club was opened to the public. By 1981 the Club boasted members in every US state and 44 foreign countries. In time its overall membership would exceed 50,000.

*Among Papa Bear’s bowhunting Pope and Young Club World Records were a British Columbia Stone sheep (1957), and an Alaskan brown bear (1960).

Fred Bear gave me this signed photo the year before his death in 1988. It’s hung in my home office since then, a constant reminder of the man I admired since our first meeting in 1972. Its personal message reflects vintage Bear modesty and wit.

*Bear Archery’s historic manufacturing milestones include the Bear Grizzly bow (1949); the first Kodiak recurves (1954); Bear Razordhead hunting heads (1956); the Fox line of solid fiberglass bows (1961); Bear snap-on bow quivers (1963); the 48-inch Super Magnum hunting bow (1967); Converta-Point arrows (1968); Fred Bear Take-Down with Futurewood bow handle (1970); magnesium alloy handle Fred Bear Take-Down bows (1971); Bear bow production tops 360,000 in a single year (1976); Bear Super Razorheads (1978); the Fred Bear Signature bow (1980); Bear stainless steel Razorheads (1981); and “the world’s fastest bow,” the Delta-V (1981).

*Bear Archery moved its manufacturing facility from Grayling, Michigan, to Gainesville, Florida (1978) and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1983.  Fred Bear died at Gainesville’s Shands Hosptial on April 27, 1988. His cremated remains were scattered along the South Branch of the Au Sable River near Grayling where Fred loved to spend spare time flyfishing. 

Sponsored by:  The Archery Hall of Fame

For more please go to: Thoughts and Tips with M.R. James

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